Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Obstacle courses and other obstructions

I’m sure there was a really good reason the producers of this movie opted to shoot in a private home instead of building a set on a stage.

I just can’t think of it. The house is in the flight path of both LAX and Santa Monica Airport, so there’s a constant stream of jets and single engine planes flying over. The damage list is already alarmingly high (film crews don’t mean to destroy your house, it just kind of happens) in both the ‘hero’ house and the house next door where we’re staging equipment.  We’re also racking up overtime because of crowding and noise.

The problem with even the largest house is that the walls won’t come out, so traffic jams happen when the DP decides to, say, place the camera in the only door leading into a small bathroom or at the base of the only staircase.

On a stage, the walls of a set can wild (come out easily) for faster access and there’s always a way around whatever equipment’s causing the traffic jam.

The other problem in our current location is our own self-generated noise. Since this particular home is built in the loft style with very high ceilings and a lot of tile, there’s no noise dampening at all.  Even whispered conversations are magnified, and because the important people have taken to sitting in the set and talking (and laughing, and singing show tunes) while we’re trying to work, it’s almost impossible to hear anything, even with the walkie turned up all the way.

The ADs can’t do anything about it because it’s the executive producers doing the laughing and singing, so we all just have to suck it up and try to do our best.

The other problem we’re having is equipment. This particular rental house (and the producer usually chooses the lowest bidder) apparently sent all their good gear to the subsidy states, because we’re being sent out some spectacularly old equipment.

The problem with old equipment is that it almost never works properly, since it’s not been maintained. It’s just been sitting in some warehouse, waiting for either the scrapper or a show that doesn’t have a choice about taking it.

Even the dust on this thing was old.

Yes, that’s a light that’s so old it was manufactured in West Germany. I think stirrup leggings were still in fashion when West Germany ceased to exist.

Why has this thing not been scrapped? Oh, right. Because they can send it to us, and not have to bother shipping any of the good equipment back from Louisiana.

Except that this light, along with about 40% of our other lights, didn’t work.

The rental house has been out every single day to exchange bad lamps, ballasts, stands, etc…

But the new stuff they bring out isn’t any better than the busted up garbage we’re sending back. Normally, after a few fuck ups, the rental house gets embarrassed and starts sending out the nice new shiny stuff that they normally only send out on commercials (commercials pay the best, so they get the best stuff).

But since I’ve not seen anything shiny or new, I’m guessing this isn’t going to get any better.

Filed under: locations, movies, Photos, Work, , , , , , ,

Crack of dark

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to getting up early. Five am is pretty common, four am sucks but is doable, but yesterday I got up at 2:45. In the morning.

In a flash of foresight unusual for me, I have the alarm placed all the way across the room so I have to get up to hit the snooze button. In theory, this means if I get up, walk across the room to turn off the alarm I’ll stay up.  Most times this just means I get up, hit the snooze button and climb back into bed, but the shock of seeing the alarm go off at such a disturbing hour kept me up.

I then shuffled into the kitchen, made coffee and had some breakfast since I correctly assumed there wouldn’t be any food options at 4 am at our location – a high school in the Valley at which I’ve worked many, many times.

The good part about starting work at 4 am is that it’s not hot yet, which is a big plus in September in Los Angeles.  We ran out our cable in the pre-dawn coolness, and although I forgot my headlamp (took it out of the work bag to change the battery, and when I got home I found it sitting right there on the coffee table where I’d placed it so I wouldn’t forget to put it in the work bag), I still managed to see well enough to not trip and fall.

We changed some tubes in the classroom and the hallway, and when the caterer opened we had breakfast.

I couldn’t figure out why I was so hungry, then realized I’d last eaten at 3 am and it was now 7:30.

After wolfing down various egg products, we rigged some lights, ran some more cable, wrapped the first location and then ran more cable in a thankfully not very smelly gym.

Also, we were very lucky that the school had no students that day. It’s not that I don’t like teenagers, it’s just that it’s incredibly difficult to work around them since they tend to form packs.

The other nice thing about really early calls is getting released early. Since this particular show doesn’t want to keep the rigging crew on for more than 10 hours, we were on our way home at 3 pm – before the traffic got bad.

Once I got home, it was a struggle to stay awake until 8, when I gave up and went to bed.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Heavy diffusion

One of the more challenging challenges of lighting involves older actresses.

Since, in Hollywood world, men are allowed to age but women must forever look 19, even when they’ve officially qualified as a dowager for a few decades and makeup can only do so much, so we in the lighting department have to pick up whatever slack we can.

It’s not as difficult as one might imagine.

A large light through multiple layers of heavy diffusion will, in effect, remove wrinkles.

The light has to be large as a small light through multiple layers of heavy diffusion results in no light at all, which also makes wrinkles difficult to see, but not in the way we want it to.

So today’s photo is a BFL (big fucking light – 9 light variety) shining through two layers of very heavy diffusion in order to make our 40-something actress look dewy and gorgeous.

Not pictured are the other two BFLs (10k variety) doing the exact same thing from two other angles, also through heavy diffusion.

It’s a lot of work for us, but boy does it make said actress look gorgeous.

So the next time you’re tempted to feel bad about yourself because you don’t look as amazing as 40-something actress, remember that you don’t have a lighting crew following you around all day :)

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

Time flies when you’re busy

January has been crazy (the good kind, not the drama kind). I’m getting multiple work calls almost every day, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is unheard of this time of year.

Tuesday, I missed a work call for Wednesday as I was swimming when the call came. Since I have yet to figure out how to bring my phone into the lap pool with me, by the time I dried off and got back to the locker the job had been given to someone else who called back sooner.

“Oh, well” I thought “I’ll just clean the house and hopefully I’ll get a day near the end of the week”.

Wednesday  morning at 6:45, the phone rang and the best boy from Doctors in Love* asked if I could come in right then as someone had called in sick.

Normally, I don’t like to jump out of bed, throw on whatever clothing smells the least and haul ass out the door. I like to get up, have some coffee, putter around and generally make a leisurely exit, but since Doctors in Love shoots across town (literally all the way across the city) and it’s an hour drive with no traffic,  I hurried as waiting too much past 7-ish would result in a multi hour stop-and-go nightmare.

It turned out to be an easy day (one set, two actors) with a bunch of really awesome guys. The only bad part about working with this particular group of guys is that they use a bunch of custom rigged lights, and as such have odd names for them.

Normally, there’s a bit of variation in what stuff is called (some people call a 4 foot, four tube Kino Flo a ‘fat boy’, some call it a ‘tall boy’), but it’s all basically the same.

Custom lights, however, are, well, custom, so there’s no frame of reference.

When the gaffer gets on the walkie and asks for a “Long John Silver on a teeter totter**” I have no frame of reference and stand there, halfway between the staging area and the set, blinking rapidly and wondering if I want to ask for clarification on the walkie, thus making everyone think I’m a bit slow, or wait to ask a co-worker, making the gaffer think I’m lazy.

Awesome.

It all worked out well, though (crazy light names aside), and I got picked up for the next day as well, so I got to go back today.

Today as also an easy day with fun people, even if the work was a bit more complex (multiple actors, a stage move, etc..), but I was inside a heated stage all day – a good thing since it’s currently really cold here in Los Angeles. Objectively cold, not California cold.

During lunch today, I got a text from the best boy on Reluctant Porn Star* asking if I could work Friday and Saturday. Both days on the beach, both days splits (afternoon call so the day’s half day, half night).

I predict both nights to be cold and damp (and working on the beach sucks balls), but hey, it’s work, right?

*Not a real show name

** An LED strip in an aluminum housing with the ballasts rigged to hang off of it. It looks like a penis on a surfboard.

Filed under: crack of dawn, long long drives, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reinventing the wheel

Although there have been some stunning innovations in lighting in the past 50 years (HMI lamps, color-corrected flourescent tubes, moving lights, LED technology), most of the basic types of lights we use haven’t changed in a very long time, and there’s a reason why.

But sometimes, someone gets bored, gets a degree, and tries to take a good design and make it, well, design-ier.

Sometimes, this can yield good results, but usually just ends up making my day more difficult.

Meet the Mole 2k soft light, familiarly known as the zip light:

Zip Light

Zip light, photo courtesy of Mole Richardson

The design of this light hasn’t changed since back in the day when movies still had title cards, because said design works really well – it puts out a good amount of nice soft light so your actors look young and fresh, it doesn’t weigh very much, and it’s only 20 amps so you can plug it into a wall outlet if you’re really desperate and have a supply of those illegal (in California) and obsolete fuses.

Somethings that’s worked so well for so long really needs a re-vamp, right? Of course it does.

Enter the Germans.

This is the new, improved and extra awesome (or something) Arri 2k soft light.:

Photo courtesy of Arri Lighting

Please note that despite the sexy black paint job, it’s pretty much exactly the same fucking design as the Mole product, only with some some weird aluminum venting system (not pictured) which one would presume is there for a good reason, but actually just makes the head incredibly heavy and unbelivably hot. Any attempt on the part of a lamp operator to go anywhere near the lamp to, say, adjust it as per the gaffer’s instructions results in unsuccessful attempts to stifle screams as one’s  flesh starts to burn.

I normally like Arri’s lighting products (except the open face heads, which have way too much plastic on them. Plastic, as you will recall from elementary school science, melts when it gets really hot), but for the soft lights, I say stick with the original. It may be an ugly color, but it works.

Once the soft light debacle was over, we trudged over to our other stage to hang some spacelights.

Spacelights are a good example of a successful reimagination of an existing product.

The light they replaced was called a chicken coop:

Chicken Coop

Chicken coops are a colossal pain in the ass. They’re a big metal box filled with giant extra-fragile light bulbs (that aren’t made any longer, so you’re fucked if you break one):

Giant Light Bulb

Chicken coops are heavy, unwieldy, difficult to transport and store, don’t really put out all that much light for how huge they are, and just suck balls in general.

So some person figured out what they really did and made a better light that did the same thing. The Spacelight:

Image courtesy of Kaye Lites

They’re still a pain in the ass to transport and store, but they’re much smaller, use the same globes as the Mole 2k soft lights, they don’t weigh anything and they’re reliable. Except when someone tries to make the current model better, stronger and faster.

The problem with the original design was that the light itself was just a hoop of steel, so it would warp from the heat of the globes (and 6,000 watts does put out a lot of heat), and then the safety screen that has to go underneath the globes (globes don’t explode very often, but when they do, it’s a shower of molten hot glass which is funny, but very, very bad) wouldn’t fit and then one would have to break out the baling wire, make it fit as best as it would and pray that no one all that important was standing under the lamp if the globe blew.

In the photo above, you see the redesign of the original light – it’s structurally sound, vents heat (as well as one can expect), and is sort of heavy, but it’s not unmanageable.

Note: Any lamp, no matter if it’s in your living room or hanging on a stage, must have some sort of venting at the top so that heat, which rises, can escape. No venting and there will be a loud bang followed by darkness.

The spacelights we got today were an attempt to redesign the redesign. They had enough venting on the top, but the safety screens were bolted on, so changing globes was next to impossible.

Of course, the heads we had delivered had bad globes and we spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the damn things open to change the globes.

Eventually, we figured it out, but please, people. Sometimes the wheel is fine just the way it is.

Filed under: hazardous, studio lots, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , , ,

Random midweek holiday photos

Equal opportunity holiday decorations at the Grove:

Equal opportunity holiday decorations

And I’m not sure which one cracks me up more – the chandeliers in boxes or the palm trees wrapped in decorative lights:

Christmas decor in Beverly Hills

Hmmm… Chandeliers win. By a nose.

Filed under: camera, Nikon, Photos, , , , ,

Almost-Saturday photo

Evening Drive

This is about how my entire drive home went – even though it was after 9 pm.
This is Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills, though – so it could just be Friday night traffic from all the folks going to da club (or wherever it is that ‘they’ go).

Filed under: life in LA, Photos, , , , , , ,

A weekend update’s better than nothing, right?

I’m normally an okay lift driver, but every now and then something happens and I fuck up. Wednesday, I got called in to be the condor person, and because they were running behind schedule, I went out to the location of the exterior scene (on the New York Street facades) to change the barn doors on the lights. Barn doors are metal flaps that attach to the front of the light to help control the beam (if the gaffer only wants the light to shine in a small area, then the operator will fold the barn doors partially over the lens so as to narrow the area that the light’s hitting).

There are two kinds of barn doors on lights – two way and four way. Two-way doors have, you guessed it, two doors and four-way doors have, of course, four metal doors.

Gaffers tend to like one or the other, and as a rule they’re very loyal to whatever type of door they like. This particular gaffer can’t stand two way doors and since the lamps had been hung with them, we had to go out and replace them with four way doors on about 10 heads that were hung somewhere in the facades.

The problem with that is that inside the facades, there’s not a direct route to anywhere, really. The interior stairways sort of wind around, and more than once, I’ve humped something heavy up what I thought was the correct stairwell only to find myself 10 feet from where I needed to be, but with no way to get there except to go all the way back down and then back up the correct stairway.

So, after a time of searching through the facades and not finding the lights, we finally had to get the gaffer on the radio (right in the middle of a lighting set-up when he was super-busy, of course) and have him tell us where the lamps were – turns out, they were hung on the outside of the facades in what was dressed to be a back alley, and to get to most of the lamps, we had to use a scissor lift.

Since we’d blown so much time wandering around looking for the lamps, we got in a hurry after being told we only had about an hour to remove the offensive barn doors and replace them – that’s not as much time as it seems like, since scissor lifts can be difficult and time consuming to manoeuvre when in tight spaces. I ended up getting the lift stuck on the uneven pavement, and in my attempts to get it unstuck, ran a tire through the ‘hero’ set piece.

Whoops.

Luckily, the standby painter (that’s the person who is there to fix things like this) got it repaired before the important people saw anything.

Then, Friday, I was back on an insert unit.

Insert units are fun because none of the important people show up – it’s just grabbing the stuff that the actors and the ‘A’ team can’t be bothered with (like a close-up of a watch or a photo or a hand picking something up), so we spent all day just jumping around grabbing bits. We had a fun day, even if lunch was two hours late – which meant the food was cold and mushy (hey, that’s what happens when it sits in a chafing dish for two hours).

Originally, we were supposed to do two episodes’ worth of inserts, but because we ran behind, we only did one – which is fine. We did an 11 hour day and I actually managed to get home in time to get some sleep before having to get up at 7 am in order to be at the MRI place by 8 (and be semi-coherent, of course).

The big surprise Friday was finding out that I had been designated the best boy. Normally, that means a hell of a headache for not a lot of money (think herding cats for 14 hours and then, just when you’re tired and ready to go home, having a mountain of paperwork dumped on you), but since we were just the insert unit the lot best boy* did the time cards and dealt with the equipment, and the crew we had were all really experienced and diligent, so really all I had to do was make the statement at lunch that we needed to make sure everything was “tits”** for first unit on Monday, and it just sort of happened by itself.

Sweeeeet, even though I can’t really take credit for it.

I’ll get results of this morning’s MRI later in the week.

*On studio lots, a show will have two best boys – one for the show, and one for the lot. The lot best boy deals with the lamp dock and all red tape involving set lighting and the studio, and the show best boy deals with the show and his (or her) crew and all location shooting.

** “Tits” is an unfortunate but heavily used (in the film industry, at least) term meaning really, really awesome.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday


I got home from work around 5 am, and managed to get about three hours of sleep this morning before the destruction crew came back in. I felt pretty good until about an hour ago. Now I feel like someone beat me with a tube sock full of quarters.

I was supposed to go to some thing at the W hotel tonight, but I’m just too damn tired (I’m also too damned tired to write much more than this) – I’ll be lucky if I manage to stay awake until 8 pm.

Filed under: Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

The socks didn’t work so well that time

I spent yesterday working on a music video (favor job) in a warehouse downtown where the temperature was at least 115 degrees (when I stepped outside into the comparatively cool 90 degree afternoon, my first thought was how nice it felt – normally, stepping outside when it’s 90 degrees makes me break into pitiful sobs).

Somehow, it never occurs to the people who scout these jobs that lights generate heat (“Oh, it was perfectly fine in here on the scout – I don’t know why it’s so hot now”) and when you fill the top floor of a warehouse with lights that generate heat and close all the windows, the room very quickly becomes the world’s biggest sauna.

I’d say it was lucky I was able to wear deodorant, but after a few hours, it really didn’t matter.

To top it all off – at the end of the day when I went to my car, someone had broken in and stolen my stereo – which wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but the stereo must have been difficult to remove, as they fucked up the entire dashboard in the process.

Turns out, on older cars with electric windows, it’s possible to just push the window down enough to reach in and unlock the door. Unbelievable.

So I guess that’s the answer to my initial question of why they’d choose to break into my car when there was a $60,000 Audi parked right behind it.

Bet you can’t just push the fucking window down on that car.

Happy 4th of July, everyone.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

August 2014
S M T W T F S
« Jul    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Flickr Photos

The space between the cells

Hallway in the afternoon

60s phone

More Photos

Categories

Random Quote

"If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." -Anne Lamott

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 684 other followers

Twitter Updates

  • @Mystery_PA @mysterygrip That's a good idea. Our best boy is super gassy. 1 day ago
  • And now we're having to run 500 feet of cable. 1 day ago
  • We thought we could pre-load some equipment but the DP seems to have lost his mind and the shot keeps getting bigger. 1 day ago

Blogroll

Not blogs, but cool

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 684 other followers

%d bloggers like this: